Revelations in the Dark

Kheri had walked aimlessly, trying to get his emotions back under control. The unfamiliar countryside was almost invisible and the darkness made it impossible to see what might be underfoot. He tripped several times, ran into a tree, and finally stopped to look around. The land was rolling and hilly, a slightly deeper shade of black against the night sky. No distinct features stood out and he realized with a sinking feeling that he had no idea which way the road might be.

He’s gonna kill me when he finds out I’m gone.

He shivered, imagining Dale’s fury. Everything he’d gone through since his capture overwhelmed him and he sank to his knees, dropping his head in his hands. “Why me?” he muttered after a minute. He let his hands fall into his lap and stared up at the night sky. “Why me? What did I ever do to deserve this? What?”

He snatched a rock from the ground and flung it into the darkness. It hit a tree with a low thunk, followed immediately by a snarling growl.

Oh crud!

Kheri scrambled to his feet and began slowly backing away.

The snarling came closer and as he fought with rising panic, his foot slipped as he stepped backwards and he fell, tumbling down the steep slope of the hill. He threw his arms over his head and tried to stop rolling. Gravity resisted his efforts and he slammed into a tree at the base of the hill where he lay stunned for a few seconds, then groaned and tried to sit up.

Ow… oh that hurt. Stupid Kheri, really stupid! I’ll probably be black and blue tomorrow. If I don’t get eaten tonight. He shuddered and huddled against the tree and looked around at the darkness, feeling very lost, alone, and frightened. Dale, I don’t care if you beat me within an inch of my life, just come find me! He gazed up at the sky through the branches of the tree, hugged his arms across his chest, and fought down the desire to cry.

~*~

Dale keyed his location into his suit, detached part of one sleeve, and activated a homing beacon. Dropping the beacon onto his blanket, he activated his suit’s infrared functions and paced the camp parameter. Fading footprints covered the ground with a single set leading away from camp into the unknown. He flipped on his force field, activated the suits sound dampers, and followed them as quietly as a wisp of cloud.

The left over heat from Kheri’s passing was dissipating rapidly and Dale forced himself to a run, counting on the suit’s sound dampers to keep anything from hearing him as he moved. The trail wandered across the terrain and disappeared at the top of a hill. He topped it just in time to hear Kheri smack into a tree at the bottom on the other side. A low growl sounded from his left and he turned, switching to the suit’s daylight effect sensors. The lights came on, showing him a rather large, shaggy wolf not too far away. “Get lost, dog.” He removed the blaster he’d liberated from the Gorg from his belt and set it on stun.

The wolf growled again and readied to spring.

Dale brought the blaster up and thumbed the activation switch. The energy beam caught the wolf as it leaped and it fell, unconscious but unhurt, a few feet from him. He set the safety and put the blaster back on his belt then switched to infrared.

A large swatch of red where Kheri had rolled down the hill blazed across the ground.

Dale walked over to the top of the hill and looked down the slope. At the bottom next to the darker red of a tree, he could see a bright pulsing mass. He switched back to the suit’s daylight effect sensors and sighed in relief.

~*~

Kheri rubbed his neck and carefully checked his ribs, looking for anything that might have broken. I need to get out of here. He turned and squinted up the hill, then shook his head. Maybe tomorrow. After it’s light and whatever’s up there is gone. He leaned against the tree again.

“Kheri.”

A familiar voice came out of the darkness and Kheri jumped, startled.

Dale appeared to materialize out of the night, his body surrounded by a faint, green glow.

Kheri gulped and struggled up to his feet, crestfallen. He looked down at his hands and forced himself to swallow. “I’m sorry.” He flinched and stood trembling before Dale, afraid of what might be coming.

Dale dropped a gentle hand on his shoulder. “That was foolish. Are you all right?”

Kheri nodded and hesitantly looked up. “You’re… not mad?”

“No. Just worried. If you can walk, we’d best get back to the horses. That wolf will be waking up shortly and his pack probably isn’t very far away.”

“I can walk. Nothing broken, just bruised.”

“All right. Then let’s get out of here.”

Dale turned and climbed up the hillside, pausing at the top to give Kheri time to catch up. Keying the bio-scanner in his suit, he studied the read-out for a moment, then turned and indicated the fallen wolf as Kheri joined him. “He’s reviving. We need to be out of his range in fifteen minutes or less.”

I’ll do my best.” Kheri stretched his shoulders, wincing as his body protested. “Where’s camp?”

Dale turned around slowly, waiting for his suit to detect the homing beacon. A brilliant blue light appeared in the sky as he rotated, accompanied by planetary co-ordinates superimposed over the landscape. He shrank the read-out and moved it to the side out of his way. “This way.” He started down the hill, one eye on the beacon.

Kheri tried to keep up but Dale moved at a much faster pace than he could match. After a few minutes, he stopped and stood looking around. “Dale!” He fought against panic, not caring if the wolf heard him or not.

Dale stopped, shook his head, and backtracked. “Sorry. I forgot you can’t see in the dark.”

Kheri’s mouth fell open and he stared in disbelief. “And you can?”

“Yes.”

Is there anything you can’t do?”

Dale crooked one corner of his mouth and chuckled. “Yes. Lots. Can we get back to camp, please?”

They made their way back to camp at much slower pace.

After several very tense minutes, the fire came in sight and Kheri let out a heavy sigh. “Thank you. That was really stupid.”

“It wasn’t overly bright,” Dale agreed. “What possessed you to walk off like that?”

Kheri shrugged and went to sit on his blanket. “I got upset. I wasn’t gonna go far, just wanted to walk it off.”

Dale crossed his arms and looked at him sideways. “Might I suggest that next time you stick to the road?”

“Not gonna be a next time. That was enough.”

Dale nodded, then retrieved the homing beacon and reattached it to his sleeve.

Kheri looked at Dale curiously. “What was that?”

“Part of my jump suit.”

“Huh?”

Dale grinned. “My jump suit. Remember what I was originally wearing?”

Kheri nodded.

“All right, watch.”

Dale unbuttoned his shirt and removed it. The suit’s sensors detected the change and it flickered back into visibility. “I’m still wearing it; it’s just invisible when I’ve got other clothes on.”

“Why are you still wearing it?”

“Well…” Dale slipped the shirt back on and the suit vanished again. “It’s kind of like armor. I wouldn’t die without it but it sure makes surviving easier.”

“Got a spare?”

“I wish I did. You could use it. Especially if the Gorg come back any time soon. But these suits are made to order and keyed to the wearer’s energy signature.”

Kheri shrugged, disappointment evident in his expression.

Dale picked up his blanket. “Now. I think we better move camp back to that stream we passed for tonight.” He shook dirt from the blanket and began folding it.

Kheri started to protest, thought better of it, and silently went to re-saddle the horses.

~*~

It took almost an hour to move the camp back down the road to the banks of the stream. Kheri dug some hardtack out of the bags, handed a piece to Dale, and sat down on his blanket. He worked at a corner of it for almost a minute then gave up, disgusted. “I swear this stuff is made out of iron!”

Dale made a face and swallowed the piece he’d been chewing. “Probably. Or grave dust. At least that’s what it tastes like.”

Kheri growled, shoved his piece back into the bag, and threw himself down on the blanket. He lay still for a while as his mind ran back over the evening’s adventure, and then broke the silence once again after almost ten minutes. “Dale, why’d you come after me?”

“Because.”

“Because, why?” Kheri sat up and tried to see Dale’s face, which was half-hidden in the shadows of the dying fire.

Dale turned his attention from the hardtack to Kheri. “Would you have preferred I hadn’t?”

Kheri shook his head emphatically. “No, I’m glad you did. I just wondered why.”

“Well… for one thing, I need your help. Second, I told your aunt I’d keep an eye on you and third,” Dale gave up on the hardtack and shoved it back into the bag. “I’m starting to like you. Okay?”

Kheri digested the answer, turning it around in his mind.

“But,” Dale went on, breaking into his thoughts and pointing a finger at him. “That doesn’t mean I’m going to pull you out of every stupid situation you get yourself into.”

Kheri nodded, a grin breaking over his face.

“It also doesn’t mean I don’t have limits on how far you can push me,” Dale warned from the other side of the firelight.

“Didn’t think it did.” Kheri’s grin widened. “I wasn’t planning on finding out, either.” He lay back down on the blanket and gazed up at the night sky, a sense of relief mingled with an unfamiliar happiness spreading through him. The stars twinkled back at him and he stared at them for a while then shook his head. “Hard to believe they’re suns,” he mumbled. “They sure don’t look like it.”

Go to sleep, Kheri,” Dale commanded gently as the firelight died to embers. “Tomorrow’s going to be a long day.”

Revelations in the Dark 1

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